Empty is an orphan child
whose father died before his birth.
At his birth his mother mild
passed on and left him heir to dearth.
Empty is a shepherd boy
who shepherds sheep through day and night.
Keeping them secure is joy
for him, but he’s the flock’s delight.
Empty works both night and day
beneath a master cruel and cold.
Empty’s simple, slow, yet gay
because for him hard work means gold.
Not the kind that buys for slaves
their freedom or a king his rule;
Empty’s is the gold of knaves
who own the wisdom of the fool.
Thankless labor for the proud
will cause them only grief and woe;
humble effort by the cowed
can in the end bring peace to grow.
Empty doesn’t mind the pain
his master’s tone of voice inflicts;
near to nowhere long has lain
the hate with which the heart conflicts.
That his owner does not love
moves Empty less to fists than tears;
ever this he’s thinking of
when conquers he his late-night fears.
For it is that Empty yearns
that Heaven send he knows not sure
down to earth, and yet he burns
for what he’s certain is secure.
“Stars and moon and sun go by,”
says Empty in his evening prayer.
“Something must not ever fly
and I sure want to fly up there.”
“Stupid, Empty!” Master yells.
“Just fill the manger, watch your sheep,
listen for the cattle bells,
and shut your mouth and let me sleep!”
“Yes, I will, and yes, I am
a stupid fool who needs to work
more at watching ev’ry lamb
and feeding cattle never shirk.”
“Shut up, Empty! Get to bed!”
And silent does the lad obey.
“Empty is my thickened head,
but how I wish the words to say
“to my master, through his screams,
how much he means to beasts and me.”
Off to sleep then Empty dreams
the visions Master can not see.
Empty floats up high to find
the mom and dad he never had.
Like a color for the blind
a newfound brother makes him glad.
Empty always here awoke
rememb’ring nothing but to smile
as he wore all day his yoke
and shouldered burdens for a while.
Through the years and seasons long
sleeps Empty after days and nights.
Master never once is wrong
in any of his empty fights.
“Fill the manger, Empty, now!
You moron lacking donkeys’ brains.
Leave the sheep and feed the cow!
You think your milk comes with the rains?”
Empty wonders why it was
both sheep and cattle were his charge.
Only briefly think he does –
most thoughts for him are much too large.
“Anything you say at all
I’ll do for you, O master mine.
I am at your beck and call,
or if you never send, that’s fine.”
So it is as late tonight
when chills forlornly fill the airs,
Empty calls to mind his fright
and at his master’s rage despairs.
“Fill the manger, Empty, brat!
Now where’s my whip and where’s your sense?
After you get done with that
I’ll tear your back a thousand rents.”
Empty weeps, but not from hurt –
the pain will go away again,
and he always fixed his shirt
as if the stripes had never been.
Empty cries confused because
he likes to feed the cows and ass.
“I have many awful flaws
but always give the cows their grass.
“Surely, I am doing wrong
except I’m dumb and don’t know how.
Master needs to beat me strong
or harm will come to lamb and cow.”
Silent then takes Empty sleep
within the cave he calls his home;
warmed by cattle, ass, and sheep,
beneath the manger, over loam.
Looking up sweet Empty sees
a father with his babe to cheek.
Mother, supine, then says, “Please,
a crib for Him, dear Empty, seek.”
Were it not that as he lay
asleep and tossed and turned around
Empty emptied all the hay
from in the manger to the ground,
Master’s words would not occur
to trouble Empty’s empty head:
“Fill the manger, Empty cur,
before you fill your lousy bed!”
“You’re the Mother that I saw
in all the dreams I ever had!
I can make a bed with straw
and that will make my Brother glad!”
Simple Empty makes a bed
as cows and sheep and ass look on.
All the while a light is shed
from stars that stop to look upon
Light itself that now is nigh
to those who wish to fly up there.
Who would think a baby’s cry
could be the sound of God at prayer?
Shepherds, angels, magi kings –
yes, all creation owe a debt
for the manger Empty brings
and in this cradle Heaven set.
Jesus, Mary, Joseph rest,
secure from want of food or thirst;
Master helped us pass the test
when Empty’s manger Christ filled first.
see Luke 2;
John 6 and 20: 1-18